Tensions arise as laptop remains in hand of ex-employee

By Sahar Chmais
Tension filled the air March 9 as Hays County commissioner dove into the problem of unreturned county equipment from former Hays County employee Alex Villalobos.
Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra (D) had an extensive back-and-forth with Commissioners Lon Shell (R) and Walt Smith (R) about the importance, or lack of, regarding the matter.
“At the end of the day I think it’s petty,” Becerra said after nearly 10 minutes of the conversation. “It’s a laptop and we have laptops everywhere. I can bring the laptop back.”
Shell and Smith did not find the situation to be this simple – Shell stressed the importance of returning the equipment and listed many reasons.
“If we don’t take the responsibility seriously, equipment could be misused,” Shell told Becerra. “If you wish to have resources associated to that position, that’s a request you can make.”
On March 2, Villalobos resigned his position as County Chief of Staff, but continued his work as an Emergency Management Coordinator. Historically, this designation is given to county employees and is not assigned specific equipment. A county judge could request the assignment of equipment to the position, but it is not inherent.
After resigning as chief of staff, Villalobos did not return the equipment, which according to Becerra was an order he gave Villalobos. The equipment Villalobos has includes a laptop, phone, keys and an ID badge.
Becerra said his suggestion was to designate the equipment to the emergency management coordinator, an official space, without the extra work of reassigning the assets that Villalobos held in his position as county chief of staff.
The argument stood that county assets need to be clearly defined and county auditors need to know where equipment is being used. Smith also explained that when the chief of staff position gets filled, the equipment needs to be available.
Shell said that he does not like the tone of being told “I’m not giving my stuff back,” when the position for those materials is vacant. The best course of action would be to bring the equipment back so the auditor’s office can do their job and then make a clear decision on record, he added.
“I’ll remedy it because it was my direction,” Becerra said. “It’s the easiest thing on the planet no matter how you slice it.”
The Hays Free Press/News-Dispatch has contacted Villalobos and the Becerra’s office for commentary on the issue but did not get a response.

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Sahar Chmais holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin. She has been covering cities in Hays County for one year, touching on residents' struggles and successes, city issues, COVID-19 and more. Prior to reporting on the local spectrum, Sahar reported for a national news organization, covering gun violence. Sahar enjoys working as a local reporter because she gets to work with real people and their stories.

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